England famously won the World Cup back in 1966, although it’s very rarely mentioned by fans. Your IE Editor looks back, but not in anger…
What were the top cars of that golden year when Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Gordon Banks and many more legends did the business back on the old Wembley pitch? Obviously not German cars, they were still producing strange contraptions like the NSU Prinz, which looked like a Hillman Imp that had been nutted in a Glasgow Fish Bar. BMW and Audi were yet to find their luxury car mojo back then, whilst VW had their successful Beetle on sale around the world. I many ways a better car than the Mini, the Beetle had the drawback of being air-cooled, dog slow and quite noisy.
Let’s look at the Brit cars from `66 because we still had a huge car industry then – which was actually British owned.
For me, the Mini was the 1960s. The Italian Job movie made them stars, the Beatles and Twiggy drove them, students set records piling into them and the Cooper version was fiendishly fast for somehting so compact and prone to over-heating. Yes, the basic 850 was a bit of a shopping trolley that lacked boot space, but the Mini freed a generation of Brits from the horrors of attaching a sidecar to a perfectly good BSA 650 or Norton Dommie. This car was democracy on four wheels, freedom for so many families. There was even a Countryman estate version.
The Mini was the first British car to break free of the tedious class system – anyone could drive one, from Princess Anne to Angie who worked at the local factory’s typing pool. Most of all, the Mini was fun and so many British cars of the Sixties were absolutely appalling to drive, with dodgy brakes, steering that felt like you were rowing through treacle and a steering wheel the size of a hula hoop.
Cooler than Michael Caine, David Bailey, Terence Stamp and Julie Christie on the razz in Soho.
THE FORD CORTINA
The MkII Cortina was launched in 1966 and this boxy saloon became the Repmobile of its time. Shoe salesman in Swansea aspired to bag a company Cortina, it was a real status symbol in a time when many sales staff still drove company vans. The 1600 GT Cortina was a 95mph performance version, with disc brakes at the front end and go-faster paintwork as an optional extra. That arrived in `67.
The 1500 Cortina was a car for Everyman, big enough for a family of five, with a boot that made many rivals looked like small bread bins. It was sleek, modern and a world apart from pudding faced dross like Wolseley 16/60s.
This was a Supercar, that really looked the part, just like the Jaguar E-Type. But it also had that sci-fi rear bubble shaped window, a sleeker profile than the 50s inspired E-Type. It looked sharper because it was designed in Italy and under that Grand Tourer shell lurked a Chrysler V8. This was the final year that you could drive up the JM1 at any speed, the National 70mph limit didn’t exist. So if you had the money, the Jenson Interceptor was a Thunderbird 1 you could drive past Watford Gap services at 130mph. Legally.
I just loved the way the Jensen looked; rakish, low slung and slightly decadent. This was a car that Ginger Baker from Cream bought, or TV celebs like Mike and Bernie Winters owned as a status symbol. An Interceptor said you were living the luxury lifestyle, La Dolce Vita meets Sussex stockbroker belt.
THe Europa was another car that looked like it had been dropped in from the future. OK, this was an expensive sports car, and absolutely tiny inside, with debatable build quality. But as Lotus moved to a new factory in 1966, the Europa signalled that the brand was serious about making exotic cars, not just kit cars and racing machinery.
The Europa had its Renault engine set behind the driver, with an aggressive, cowl-like cover hiding it. The whole thing looked a bit Renault Alpine meets Ferrari Dino and that was a good thing. It only had a 1500 engine, but with a fibreglass body it was typically light – so it went fast. This was a poor man’s GT40 in some ways, set really low to the ground, a sharp-handling go-kart for the masses. It went on to become a best seller for Lotus and keep winning fans well into the 70s.
Those are the cars that rocked `66.